- from Early Settlements
The first Spaniards who came to New Spain were soldiers. They knew a lot about fighting, but they were not ready to labor in mines or farm for food. For that kind of hard work, the early settlers of New Spain used the American Indian population.
Under a system called the encomienda, the Spanish king gave the labor of certain American Indian groups to individual settlers for life. In effect, this meant that many American Indians of New Spain were held in slavery. Slavery is the practice of forcing people to work against their will without pay. Many of these enslaved American Indians were overworked. They were not fed enough. They were exposed to new diseases that settlers unknowingly brought from Europe. Not surprisingly, they died in large numbers. In New Spain’s first 100 years, the American Indian population went from about 25 million to 1 million.